Welcome to Moffat
Moffat, in Dumfries and Galloway, occupies an important position on the main route from England to the west of Scotland. Travelling north along the M74 from the border, Moffat is the third significant settlement you will come across, after Gretna and Lockerbie. It is considered one of the prettiest towns not just in the Scottish Borders but in the country as a whole.
Moffat Water at Grey Mare's Tail, near Moffat
Despite Moffat’s later development a number of clues survive which tell us a little about the area’s earliest settlers. The most interesting is probably a yew bow unearthed at Rotten Bottom. This bow is an example of the kind of weapon available to Scotland’s hunter gatherers around 4000 BC. Probably the most famous prehistoric remains are those near Dyke Farm on the road leading into Moffat. Here stand three standing stones, probably erected in the first millennium BC.
Despite their short stay in the region the Romans left behind more traces of their presence. The most significant is the Roman road from Carlisle north into central Scotland. The mound on which the road sat can still be seen around Moffat. The valley of the Evan Water and the ridge to the west of today’s town was the site of a number of marching camps. The semi permanent buildings left scars in the land which have been excavated by archaeologists.
After Roman withdrawal the Celts re-established themselves as the masters of the area. The Kingdom of Rheged dominated this part of the borders but Saxon and Viking gradually chipped away at their territory. Nonetheless, the Kingdom of Galloway, as it was later known, survived up until its incorporation into Scotland.
Galloway’s incorporation into Scotland was contemporaneous with the development of Scottish feudalism. In Scotland this transition was promoted by the introduction of a number of Norman nobles as regional lords by King David I. In this way Moffat and Lochmaben became the properties of the Bruce family from around the 12th century: the ancestors of Scotland’s most famous king, Robert the Bruce. A settlement at Moffat developed, from at least as early as the Bruce family’s ascendancy to regional power, as a market and stop off point for cattle drovers. There was a church and evidence remains of fortifications. The Bruces set up home at Lochmaben Castle, south west of Moffat, which is now an attractive ruin.
The year 1633 is an important one in Moffat’s history. It was then that a mineral spring was found nearby. From this time on Moffat began to develop as Scotland’s first Spa resort as people journeyed from far and wide to seek respite and remedy for a variety of afflictions. In 1683 the Black Bull Inn (on Church Gate) became the first of many Inns built to accommodate all the travellers, and the town began to grow considerably. When a second spring was found in 1748 the town’s status was ensured. Just 19 years later the world renowned architect, John Adam, completed Moffat House Hotel on High Street, now one of the town’s crowning glories.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that such a significant town should be connected with a number of famous persons. Archibald Johnston, born in nearby Beattock, was one of the lawyers who drafted the Articles of the National Covenant in 1638. John Graham, Lord Claverhouse, used the Black Bull Inn as a base for his suppression of the followers of this Covenant (the Covenanters) during the Killing Time. During Scotland’s influential Enlightenment Moffat became as associated with engineers as it is with writers and poets. John ‘tarmac’ MacAdam is buried there; the greatest engineer of his era, Thomas Telford, was born nearby at Westerkirk. James Boswell was one of many to visit the Spa, Robert Burns fondness for the town brought him back time and again and Tibbie Shiels Inn was the local of none other than James Hogg.
Scotland’s Enlightenment helped lay the foundations for the industrial revolution, which would alter the country so profoundly. Even rural Moffat was not unaffected: it became a significant producer of woollens (as exhibitions at the interesting Moffat Woollen Mill testify) as well as a centre for mining and quarrying. However, the local economy has remained founded on agriculture, its place as a market town and the influx of visitors, even after they became disinterested in the town as a Spa Resort. Moffat and the local area now offer attractions such as golf, walking, fishing and various interesting museums and visitors centres (including the nearby Tibetan Monastery). All the same, some would argue that the major attraction in the area is the town itself. Its interesting history has bequeathed Moffat with a wide variety of characterful buildings which make it one of Scotland, lesser known, gems.